My Staffy mix constantly gets distracted by shadows while we're outside. To the point where when we're at the dog park, he pays attention to shadows 90 percent of the time and the other dogs 10 percent of the time. Forget about playing fetch at the dog park as well. When he's walking on a leash, he loves meeting other dogs, etc. Please help.
Shadow chasing among dogs is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and can be very serious. Before starting any type of behavior modification, check with your vet to see if the best solution for your dog is medication. If your vet suggests behavior modification exercises, here are some to try out.
Your dog must learn that the obsession is unacceptable behavior, and it will not be rewarded in any way. It’s natural for us as owners to laugh and exaggerate ourselves when our dogs do this. We think it’s funny and entertaining. Smiling, laughing, and drawing attention to your dog during the obsessive behavior is a reward. Even if you’re not drawing attention to him, simply sitting in the room as your dog shadow chases is rewarding for him as well. To remedy the behavior, physically get up and leave the room every time he begins to go after shadows. He will eventually learn that his ultimate reward (spending time with you), is removed when he performs the obsessive behavior. Since he will want the reward, as a result, the obsessive behavior should stop.
You may also want to try increasing the frequency and duration of your dog’s daily walks. Dogs in general need at least a 45 minute to an hour walk every day of the week. Walks are not only physical workouts, but they provide much needed mental stimulation for your dog. Making your dog stay at your side without pulling, and not letting him sniff on walks will make him think. This will be mentally exhausting for him. When a dog is mentally tired, he or she is much less likely to perform obsessive behaviors. If the walks alone are not enough, you may also want to try putting a backpack on him when he goes on walks. You can weigh it down with bottles of water, or plastic baggies of rice. The extra weight will add to his physical workout, but more importantly, the backpack will give him a job to do. This will add to his mental stimulation, which, again, will tire him out more.
Please don’t neglect the fact that OCD can be very serious, and can put your dog in potentially dangerous situations. Again, make sure you discuss this issue with your vet before beginning any type of therapy. Good luck! WOOF!
Alexandra (Alex) Macias has been a certified Dog Trainer and Behavior Specialist since 2008, and is the owner of Alex Macias Dog training, a Long Beach-based dog training company. To ask Alexandra questions for a future article, leave them in the comments below, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.